We got to sleep in on the 4th of July, getting up shortly before 8am to make the 9:30 bus to the Toklat River station. It was clearer, with no sign of rain for once. We called home to reassure my mom that we were alive, then went to the visitor center for coffee. The girl there remembered me, which of course meant we were already regulars.
Our bus driver, Rich, was great. He had a story about everything, and went around the bus asking people where they were from. He talked about the moose rut and sports with equal amounts of enthusiasm.
mom and baby bear
We rode to Polychrome Pass, and decided to hike from there. We talked to Rich about the routes in the area, which were all really just game trails. The paths on top of the pass were really muddy, so he suggested we grab a shuttle back to the Toklat River instead. We started hiking down the pass, being sure to talk loudly. We’d just seen bears nearby.
from polychrome pass, with glacier!
A bus came by about 20 minutes later. We flagged it down and asked to be let off at the bridge on the Toklat River. There was an Amish family on the bus, which I found immensely fascinating.
snowmelt water mixing with glacial runoff in the toklat river
We found a driveway near the bridge, and hiked down to the river. The Murie Cabin is there, and rangers use it as a research outpost. It was kind of creepy, with nails sticking out of it to keep bears from chewing their way inside.
Behind the cabin, there was a port-a-potty. This was a big find, obviously, because facilities are so rare, especially clean ones with toilet paper. I was freaked out at being in the middle of nowhere, though, so I left the door open and talked the whole time. It’s not like anybody was going to accidentally come across me there in the bathroom.
We hiked along the little tributaries to the river, looking for places where the ice was still packed enough to be able to walk across. We were moving pretty slowly, always keeping an eye out for animals; the rushing of the nearby river was so loud that we wouldn’t hear a bear, and it’d be unlikely to hear us. You know what’s really rattling? Knowing that you could seriously be in danger of a bear attack. That’s not something you’re often concerned about.
On the banks of the Toklat River, we sat on the stones and ate lunch. Being there is something I’ll never forget.
We walked back up to the park road, with magpies following us and yelling the whole time. We saw wild hares all over in the brush. Heading up toward Sable Pass, we entered a restricted wildlife area, which meant we had to stay on the road lest we be eaten by things. That’s how I interpreted it, at least.
notice that the sign is all chewed up by bears.
Part of the way up the pass, a bus came along, but the driver said it was out of service, and another would be along shortly. We were fine, though; the nice thing about hiking in the mountains in Alaska is it’s not like, say, the Rockies. You’re only at 4-5,000 feet, instead of 14,000. Easy! We were just constantly on the lookout for bears and wolves. Another bus finally showed up, and it was full of very tired-looking people from Wonder Lake.
The driver of that bus, Brad, was talking about some of the other sights in Alaska. The one that excited me most, and the main one I intend to go back for, is the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. It’s a valley that’s buried in 700 feet of ash from a volcanic eruption, and you can hike in it.
We got back to the WAC around 5pm, had dinner at the visitors’ center, did some souvenir shopping, and then decided to drive back along the park road to see if we could find any more animals. Not only did the sun come out briefly, we saw a wolf! We turned around at the Savage River and headed back to the park entrance, stopping at the mercantile for breakfast supplies for our drive back to “civilization”.
i thought this was far funnier than stephanie did.
at the park exit
We went to our cabin to celebrate the 4th of July on the deck with the beverages we’d acquired in Healy. We realized that fireworks wouldn’t really work very well in Alaska that time of year, because it doesn’t get dark.
We were in bed by 10, but I set the alarm and got up at 2am to get this picture:
2am in denali on the 4th of july
You don’t really have trouble sleeping when you’ve been wandering in the wilderness all day, however.